5 Office Habits to Keep When Working From Home

by Lynn Truong on 28 June 2011 7 comments
Photo: Maliketh

Whether you've set out on your own or have convinced your boss to let you telecommute, it may feel like a huge relief to finally lose the commute and be able to work from home. So it may come as a surprise when you find yourself struggling to maintain productivity and a stable work-life balance, when you've never struggled with either before.

What happened?

You left your at-work attitude back at the office.The structure and formality of an office setting offers unconscious cues that allow you to get in "work mode" that a home office may not provide. However, you can replicate the benefits of an office setting but still have the flexibility and comfort of working from home.

A Physical Boundary

The most obvious difference between commuting to an office and stepping out of your bedroom is the physical boundary. When you're at the office, you can't access your couch, your bed, your Tivo. Your neighbor can't knock on the door to borrow some tools. All the stuff you have at home – a leaky faucet, laundry, DVD set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – is literally out of your reach until you get home. It sets your mind at the tasks that are in front of you.

Consider using a coffee shop or a library as your "office" to avoid distractions at home. Sometimes doing this just once or twice a week can make a big difference in your ability to focus on tough tasks or when working on a deadline. At home, create a designated work space. If you can't have a whole room for an office, use something physical to block off the space and make sure both you and others in the household respect that space. Get noise reduction headphones and turn off the house phone so you can't be disturbed, just as if you were in an office elsewhere.

Watercooler Chats

Among the most valuable aspects of a traditional office are daily social interaction and camaraderie. It's not just nice to have social relationships, but it's an opportunity to network and establish bonds with other people in the industry.

Remember to make time for professional engagements that allow you to connect with colleagues. This might be joining a local meetup group or just keeping in touch with old coworkers by meeting them for lunch. If you are telecommuting while fellow coworkers are at an office, it's all the more reason for you to maintain regular contact (in person) to stay properly integrated into the team.

Role Models

Not having a boss down the hall who can easily look over your shoulder may be liberating, but on the flip side, not having someone you can quickly reach out to for advice and direction limits your productivity. Further, one of the best ways to grow professionally is to have a mentor. If you're working from home, you may need to reach out to people you look up to and see if they'd be open to mentoring you.

Respectable Clothes

One of the best things about working from home is that you can be on important conference call in your bunny slippers. However, being in your PJs all day isn't conducive to training your mind to be in work mode. After all, PJs equal bedtime; our bodies respond to routine. If you go through a "getting ready for work" process, it will help your mind and body gear up for it. This doesn't mean you have to wear a tie at home, but it does mean getting out of your PJs and brushing your hair.

Office Hours

Increasingly, employees are breaking out of the usual "office hours" anyway by checking and sending emails during non-office hours, but it's still important to establish your work hours regardless. Working from home allows you a lot of flexibility in setting those work hours. For example, you can work 4 hours in the morning, break for 4 hours, and then work 4 hours in the evening. Whatever works best for you is what you should go with, and then make sure the people in your life are aware of that.

One of the problems about working from home is that friends and family think that you're available for them at any time. You'll get requests for airport pickups, impromptu visits, and other tasks and events that you're expected to do or participate in because you can work "any time." While it's true that you are able to adjust your work time, it's just as important to maintain a regular schedule so that your colleagues can reach you, your work is done promptly and efficiently, and you don't lose your professional edge.

It's easy to take for granted some of the ways that a "real office" contributes to your professional growth and productivity. But a home office can give you the best of both worlds. All you have to do is step out of your bunny slippers and keep yourself actively engaged.

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Guest's picture
Susan

When you work from home, I think that it is just as easy to get carried away with doing work at times when you shouldn't be. Especially if you have a "workaholic" personality. Your suggestion to create a set work schedule and to stick to it, is great. It helps to avoid the stress and prevent burnout.

Guest's picture

Absolutely love this post and it's tips. I've worked out of my home office since 2005 and it is not easy. 1) There are no clear boundaries to you or your family members. 2) Some people believe you don't have a real job and you are available any time to handle their needs. 3) Some believe you should be available 24/7/365 because you work from home or own your own business.

I love the idea about boundaries or taking your work to the local coffee shop (although spending too much on a latte is never good)... thank you so much!

Guest's picture

Great points. In relation to everyone thinking you are available because you work from home, I think it is really important to have really strong boundaries and enforce them. A little bit like puppy training really (hee hee).

Meg Favreau's picture

Agreed! A big one for me happens when I have friends visit from out of town. While they're trying to schedule meet-ups with people, they always assume I can meet for lunch -- or hang out with them all day long!

Guest's picture

Working from home is fun until something goes wrong and you need instant help! Yes, immediate advice and quick problem solving of sticky situations like a very nasty complaining customer can be very productive.

But then, with a "things always work out" attitude, I find that through time and experience I am enjoying working from home more.

But it's true that keeping in close and constant contact with the social groups in your field and your potential customers is so important. This can be the life-blood of any business. It is for me.

Mikey Rox's picture

Great tips, Lynn! I work from home and I sometimes have trouble with the "get out your PJs" rule. I agree that when I go through the "getting ready for work" motions, I'm much more productive.

Guest's picture

This is a great post that anyone working from home can use! If you own a small business, you NEED to recognise that you may run the place, but you still need to practice good workplace habits. My favourite tip is having as you call "respectable boundaries." You can't run a business right if you can't separate it from the rest of your life. Even if you love everything about your job there needs to be a subtle change between work and "real life."